The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Is 2003 by definition better than 1981, musically? There is music being produced now which reminds us irresistibly of 1981, yet the remembrance is irresistible precisely because we know full well that the music of now could never have been made in 1981. It is the awareness of the prior existence of 1981 which differentiates it - no more so than with Do You Party?, the debut album by The Soft Pink Truth.

The Soft Pink Truth is, in truth, Drew Daniel, one-half of Matmos, who about this time last year produced an engrossing and not too distant album constructed from the sounds of actual surgical operations - A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure. As with that oddly engaging record, Do You Party? is almost entirely constructed from cut-ups, some of sound effects of uncertain industrial origin, others from naggingly just-beyond-familiar records, films and broadcasts. In terms of sonic spaciousness, SPT can be imagined as a logical extension from the benevolent revisitations of early '80s disco by Metro Area, and from the other extreme a logical reduction of the refractions between different sound sources harnessed to rhythm so expertly sculpted by Horsepower Productions. Of course SPT can occupy one point of an entirely different "cut-up" triangle, the other two points being Kid 606 and Cassetteboy. But on Do You Party?, the aim is neither polemic nor parodic, but purely pleasure. Much of this record adds up to the most sheerly danceable and enjoyable album since "side one" of Daft Punk's Discovery.

The introductory track "Everybody's Soft" starts with a strobe-lite/glitch voice cut-up which immediately puts one in mind of Arthur Russell - not a bad start - and the rhythm track skilfully builds up pace while the synths create space. Sonically the record is almost 3D in its approach; sounds hurl out at you like - yes - puncta, and there's a transcendent moment two-thirds of the way through the track where a massive orchestral-synth glow suddenly becomes visible, as though you are riding the first rise of the Westway, suddenly seeing the city in all its garish glory spread before you (Amon Tobin did something similar, though for entirely different ends, in last year's "El Wraith"). It's not long before you forget how the music's been constructed.

"Gender Studies" is a dancefloor smash in any sane person's book; again conscious of the architectural need for build-up, there's an enticingly squelchy bass throb which builds up through the snippets of half-forgotten disco classics and indeed creates something that perhaps could have been imagined in 1981 (a sharper DAF? a de-ironicised Heaven 17?) but could never have been produced. "Promofunk" continues the unbelievable roll with a glorious, tremulous thump of a tune; and hear how it suddenly descends into a canyon of aleatoric ambience at the end. This record dares you to guess what it's going to do next.

And I'm sure it would have been difficult to guess that SPT would then segue into the album's true killer track; a cover version of "Make Up" by Vanity6, one of the many satellite operatives of Paisley Park (as with Sheila E, Jill Jones, the Family et al; take my word for it, if you're looking for sublime '80s dance-pop, pick up anything by any of these people that you might see in your local second-hand emporium - it's all terrific) and in its original form something of a prototype for Destiny's "Bootylicious." Here, though, it's sung with winning semi-amateurish charm by Blevin Blechdom and successfully converted into an ode of joy at discovering the wonders of womanhood; cynicism replaced by awe.

It's hard to think of any routine techno operatives who would have a thousandth of the ingenuity of SPT in constructing a track like "Soft On Crime." Here is a path down which Basement Jaxx would do well to tread for their next album; the track starts with an exultant chant (MC Hammer meets Cossack dancers) before eventually decelerating into a Spaghetti Junction of crazily interviewing (a)tonalities and gradually distending beats.

After that, the ambience becomes slightly more downbeat, ever so slightly more solemn. "For Satie" is based on one chord of one of Erik's Gymnopedies which has a considered debate with a sinister bass rumble. This decelerates further into "Soft Pink Missy" (which appeared as a 12" last year), a thoughftul, unhurried romp with mid-range voices floating round your head like missiles which have failed to convert into satellites. Then the pace picks up again with "Big Booty Bitches" which cannily deconstructs macho rap howls with the aid of what I agree with The Wire's Peter Shapiro is indeed a rearrangement of the synth riff to J-Lo's "Play" - doing anything but keeping it real (thank God). "Over You (No Love)" is where Wigan Casino awakens in Skylab; several different "pasts" of music blissfully combine to throw you around your bedroom in essemplastic elation.

The closing salutation "I Want To Thank You" must surely be a sideways salute at the flexidisc included in the Human League's Dignity of Labour EP; as with the latter, it takes the opportunity to include the credits as part of the album. The acknowledgements are done in cut-up style, incorporating everything from the Encarta talking dictionary to "Stephen Hawking" via Desert Island Discs. It is amiable and approachable, as with all of the rest of this wonderful record. It's a generation down the line from Mutant Disco but just as entertaining and as avant-garde - crucially, at the same time. One could call it electroclash, and if one is going to call it electroclash, then this constitutes the best 53 minutes which have yet come out of it. It works because it reminds you of how great 1981 was, as opposed to how far downhill everything went from 1981 (which it didn't), and tells you that things can be, in fact are, as great again. That's the secret of utilising your influences creatively; don't use them as an anchor, but as a compass. That way, a future is created out of the past; thus do you continue to live.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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